Banged-up Ravens not ready to say hello to bye week

October 18, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

The original idea for this column was to convince you all that it would be better, and smarter, for the Ravens to just rest all their injured players (and there are a lot) Sunday in Buffalo, even if it meant losing and falling to 4-3.

Better to sacrifice a game than to risk depleting their health further. Next week's bye, the argument was going to go, is far more important than this week's game in the grand scheme of things, which includes a brutal second-half schedule that begins in Pittsburgh on Nov. 5.

Yesterday, the Ravens' players convinced me of the exact opposite. The new plan, then: to convince you of how thunderously, unassailably wrong I was.

But in my own defense, in a different locker room, the idea would be completely plausible.

"I think if we didn't have the leadership we have in this locker room," Derrick Mason said, "if we didn't have that will to win and the dedication to the sport, this would be a good week for guys to say, `Buffalo's 1-4; let's take this week off, then take that bye week and get ready to play Pittsburgh.'"

Apparently, teams with Super Bowl dreams don't let their seasons revolve around a bye week.

"These guys want to play, and they want to win," Mason continued. "They know that if we push ourselves this week to win, we get ourselves one step closer to where we want to be."

Honestly, this theory made sense yesterday morning, with reports that Chris McAlister had joined the multitude of his teammates with some sort of knee problem - tweak, sprain, torn ligament, depending on who was describing it. Whatever the case, McAlister seemed a likely candidate to join Steve McNair and Jonathan Ogden for certain (and, possibly, Todd Heap, Adam Terry, Mike Flynn, Daniel Wilcox and who knows who else by game time) in shorts and T-shirts Sunday, adding to his healing time.

It would be the sensible move. Two straight weeks to heal are better than one. Plus, this Ravens team ought to be good enough to squeeze past the Bills, even on the road. And if not, so what? Was playing those key injured players worth the chance of not having them available at Heinz Field?

It was quite a misjudgment of what these players are about. McAlister, for instance, wouldn't even give in yesterday to the idea that he'd miss one game, much less the three projected by some. He hinted that he'd take the one off-week to which he's entitled, and none more.

"Buffalo could be a reality," he said. "We do have a bye week, so we could play in Buffalo."

Across the locker room, Terry was making noises about playing after rejoining practice on a limited basis. Flynn and Ogden practiced, too. Heap did not practice, but he did try to play last week and lasted just one series, so it stands to reason that he'd try it again Sunday. And in a corner, Trevor Pryce was saying that if there wasn't a bye week next week, he wouldn't wait until Pittsburgh.

"Guys around here, if they can play, they will," said Samari Rolle, sitting behind McAlister as his fellow cornerback continued to talk his way into the lineup.

That's how some teams are. Generally, those are the teams that win, or at least despise losing enough to go the extra step to prevent it if they can. There are plenty of players who would not bother, and teams that would not press the issue. Such teams and players are often found at the bottom of the standings, playing out the string, hoping they don't strain the hammy so much that it affects their offseason golf swings.

Every pro has either played with players like that, played against players like that - or is a player like that.

It's a fine line - you have to trust that players, and teams, know the difference between pain and injury. McNair, for one, has made a career of straddling that line. He still acts as if he never wants to sit out a game or come out of one. He's being told to sit. Ogden, of course, literally cannot play, and has said over and over how it's driving him crazy.

When they, and others, get themselves onto the field, the psychic effect it has on an entire team can't be measured, even if the players play like they're hurt. It might not even be measured in a win or a loss this week.

"Our No. 1 goal is to go into the bye at 5-2," Mason said. "That's No. 1 on the agenda. That takes precedence over everything we do."

Even over a really long injury report.

So the moral is: There's logic, there's football logic, and there's winning football logic. You can't apply logic to winning football logic.

Believe me. I tried. It didn't fit.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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